Rapid Return of Children in Residential Care to Family as a Result of COVID-19 As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments have mandated that residential care providers rapidly return children and youth to family. Based on survey data from...
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While research suggests that children and youth develop best in the context of safe and healthy family relationships, all deinstitutionalization efforts should be supported by best practice standards, adequate resources, support and monitoring, and sufficient time to ensure the safety and wellbeing of each child involved.
Countries Mandated to Rapidly Reintegrate
Child and Family Preparation Prior to Reunification
Four themes emerged...
Mandated Rapid Return
Mandates From National Governments Mandates From Local or Regional Governments
Between March 1-July 3, 2020
Support for Children and Families After Rapid Return
NGOs had contact with
of children that were returned.
NGOs had an average of “We have children who were rushed into families because we didn't have time to prepare them for entry.”
of respondents reported they
believed that at least some children would be able to remain safely with their families long term IF the families were given adequate support services. Current Support Includes: Hygiene supplies Psychoeducation Case management Economic support
Monitoring Health care Education Food
days to prepare for reintegration
NGOs felt able to prepare...
Concerns for Reunified Children and Families Primary Concerns: “The situation within families that led to rescue was not adequately addressed before reintegration.”
Child Safety & Long-Term Family Stability Due To: Unresolved antecedents to placement Lack of pre-placement preparation Poverty and unemployment Lack of access to education and technology for children and caregivers
Bottom Line: Children and youth are being rapidly returned to households without many of the typical supports that would increase the likelihood of a safe and long-term reintegration.
Rapid Return of Children in Residential Care to Family as a Result of COVID-19
Suggestions for NGOs Develop a Support Strategy NGOs who have previously served children through residential care may be unprepared to support them in family settings. However, they often have skilled staff, community relationships, and funding that make them wellpositioned to transition their services with adequate support.
Invite Child and Family Participation All children and families should have the opportunity to freely communicate their desires during and after the placement process. When children are engaged at a developmentally appropriate level, services are shown to be more effective.
Mitigate Antecedents to Separation Providing support to remove or mitigate antecedents to separation (such as poverty or abuse) is critical to ensuring the wellbeing of the child and preventing future separation. The large majority of families will need support services to remain successfully intact.
Children Remaining in Residential Care Those NGOs that have children remaining in residential care should strictly follow public health guidance on COVID-19, as individuals in these settings are particularly vulnerable.
Encourage Communication Communication may be one of the most important components of placement stability, particularly during times of mandated social distancing. Developing trust with the caregivers is important to maintaining the relationship with the child and family.
Provide Case Management Working with children and families to identify their needs and goals can further support the likelihood of the child being well cared for in the family. Programs should also monitor child and family wellbeing, offering support as challenges arise.
Plan for Economic Resilience Think of both intended and unintended consequences of any services provided to ensure economic resilience. It is important to consider sustainable economic and material solutions, such as vocational training, small agricultural projects, or microfinance, that can maximize the economic security of a family during the pandemic and beyond.
Facilitate Alternative Care When Necessary Not all rapid returns result in safe families for children, and it may be necessary to find alternative placements for some children. If it becomes clear that a placement is unsafe for a child or unsustainable for the family, NGOs can inform local authorities and be part of identifying and facilitating a suitable alternative placement, such as kinship care, foster care, or adoption.
Supporting Continued Family Placement Moving a child in and out of care settings, and particularly out of a family, can be traumatic. Each case plan should focus on how family support may facilitate the longterm reintegration of that child into a safe and nurturing family.
Suggestions for Government Based on the current data, governments should not mandate the rapid return of children to family. Although family care is ideal, appropriate child and family preparation is imperative to ensure the safety and best interest of children. If rapid return does occur, then strong case management, monitoring, and collaboration with other service providers are vital. Based on research by Nicole Gilbertson Wilke, Amanda Hiles Howard, and Philip Goldman